When the calm waters of Alaska's Inside Passage are first broken by a large, dark humpback as it rises and breaches from the sea, viewers on the open deck of a whale watch ship can't help but gasp at the thrill. Vessels that transport passengers on a whale watch excursion are allowed to approach as close as 100 yards to a humpback whale — a distance that hardly requires binoculars to get a closeup look.
When to Go
From May to September, humpback whales that have migrated north from their winter feeding grounds feast on Alaska's plentiful krill, herring, and bait fish, eating up to a ton of food per day. Orcas, popularly known as killer whales, also make appearances in Alaskan waters with their pods. Sightseers may see both types of whales on a Juneau whale watch excursion, especially during the summer months of May and June for orcas and June and July for humpback whales.
What to Pack
How can you prepare to see these majestic mammals on an Alaskan cruise? You'll want to bring binoculars, which you can use to spot whales from afar, and your camera. A telephoto lens will capture faraway breaches, but whales can also approach your cruise ship. Since whale watching vessels can approach whales once they are spotted, and because whales sometimes decide to move a little closer, a snapshot or cell phone camera can capture the spectacular rise of a whale. So unless you have a strong passion for photography, you shouldn't feel obligated to purchase expensive specialty equipment for your whale watch. Having a video option will allow you to record an orca's spray or a humpback whale's pattern of "bubble net feeding," wherein a group of whales circle their prey and then surge to the surface to engulf it. Consider wearing lightweight or fingerless gloves to more easily access your camera's functions.